MAPMAKER OF ABSENCES.

My all-time favorite comment thread is this one, which was ignited by a post about a poem, “A Dish of Peaches in Cluj,” by Maria Benet (there’s a nice piece by Beth Ashley about her in the Marin Independent Journal). I am happy to report that the poem is included in her new collection, Mapmaker of Absences (published by Sixteen Rivers Press), a gorgeous book inside and out—even the table of contents is unusual and pleasing to the eye. You can read a couple of the poems at the book site; here’s a couple more. First, another poem about her native city:

Cluj
    after William Carlos Williams
Trunks by the door
blue and gold
obscured in dim light—
smell of dust—
Sun of early morning—
on the wood floor
a wood frame, the picture
missing, next to it
scissors are lying—and the
cavernous empty room

(That’s the first of “Three American-Style Studies of a Landscape Rendered Foreign,” the third of which is “Peaches in Cluj.”) Another:

Odysseus, Home
He finds her in the garden,
shears in gloved hands,
doing something to roses
he does not remember planting.
When he tells her it’s over,
the long hours, the daily commute,
she drops the shears: “Never mind,
we’ll fix the house, or take up golf.”
A confusion of roses, a scented
Greek chorus, comes apart at her feet.
Like a great empty hall,
the garden is silent,
the clamor of voices quelled.
He picks up the fallen shears,
she gathers the roses. They stand
apart and overcome by longing.

I want to quote more—”Half an Hour” (“The poet Cavafy knew this kind of alchemy…”), “An Italian Romance” (“This time, I know you are taken/ by the wind in the olive trees…”), the “Ghazal” from which the title is taken (“Memory, the mapmaker of absences, tracing/ vanishing steps—the fugitive friend, a burden…”)—but I’d wind up quoting the whole book; you’ll just have to buy it to get the full dose of formal pleasure mixed with lived emotion and exact perception. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Comments

  1. You might think of gathering your Ten Greatest Hits threads and post them for people to re-experience. At best, the quality of discussion here is really quite amazing.

  2. Maria is great. May all success be hers.

  3. Looking at that thread again, I see the mention of some Germans being ‘Flemings’. We had that recently in connection with that Silesian town beginning with W. I have pretty much convinced myself that (as said in the Peaches thread) they just came from a different part of Germany, and probably spoke a form of Low German.

  4. When I was young there was a whole family of not-very-good Benet poets. Sort of the American Rosettis. The new Benet seems better.

  5. Ah, yes, Stephen Vincent B., the Bard of Bethlehem (Pa). Didn’t realize there were others. His brother was a newspaper editor, I think.

  6. Always ended up calling him Stephen St. Vincent Benet, confusing him with Edna St. Vincent Millay
    William Rose Benet was the brother. There was a woman too, though Marjorie only wrote children’s books I think.
    These guys were already out of date when I was young, but my HS didn’t buy textbooks often.
    But the new Benet will make the family name, I think.

  7. Hey, “Stephen St. Vincent Benet” gets 140 Google hits! You’re obviously not the only one who got confused.
    And at least he knew his place:
    Others with subtle hands may pluck the strings,
    Making even Love in music audible,
    And earth one glory. I am but a shell
    That moves, not of itself, and moving sings;
    Leaving a fragrance, faint as wine new-shed,
    A tremulous murmur from great days long dead.

  8. If my book adds a bit of shine to the Benet name, that’s great, and I am sure those related to Stephen Vincent Benet might even appreciate it … but I am afraid there is no relation whatsoever here.
    I am an altogether different Benet. Even my name, like the language in which I write, is borrowed.
    I acquired the Benet name through marriage — and my husband’s family, hailing from Lithuania in mid and late 19th century, acquired that name the way so many other immigrant families did; through errors in American bureaucracy and terrors, still fresh in memory, from that old Russian bureaucratic way of handling “foreigners”, pogroms.

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